The past year has been one for the record books, and I feel confident in saying that many of us did not expect or anticipate the many challenges we experienced as hearing care professionals (HCPs), business owners and essential service providers. More so, our patients – both existing and new – were forced to overcome the impact of COVID-19 and how it played a role in their hearing healthcare and hearing journey.
Together we all had to figure out what it meant to stay open and provide services in a new, socially-distant environment in which everyone was safe while the efficacy of the treatment provided wasn’t negatively impacted or compromised as compared to before COVID-19.
As 2020 wraps up, many of us are looking forward to 2021 and getting back to some sense of ‘normalcy’. However, as I type that sentence, I am very aware that we are in a ‘new normal’. How we deliver hearing healthcare services as well as the ways in which we engage with our patients and successfully run a business have fundamentally changed. So with that in mind – what can we do as we look to 2021? What have we learned from COVID-19 and the new digital healthcare space we currently live in that we can continue to build upon for success in 2021?
- Learning #1: The hearing healthcare industry is resilient – and we’ve overcome it before!
The hearing healthcare industry has found itself in a volatile situation before, as far back as the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The past has shown us that hearing healthcare follows the lead of other healthcare fields: While it may be affected, it rebounds swiftly and strongly.
The COVID-19 pandemic is no different. In fact, surveys suggest most of first-time hearing aid wearers seeking a solution for their hearing loss merely ended up delaying their purchase due to COVID-19, leading to pent-up demand for not only hearing aids, but hearing healthcare services. Meaning that – now more than ever – it is time to balance bringing back patients to clinics safely and effectively while also offering telehealth solutions.
- Learning #2: Patients are willing and able to come back to see you – if you’re safe and you communicate with them.
Your patients are looking to you to proactively communicate with them before they reschedule a previous appointment or even think about a new patient appointment. In fact, 1 in 4 patients state that they are ready to come back and see their provider as soon as the provider is willing to see them.1
But what if they don’t know you’re ready to see them? In addition, when asked what protocols would make patients feel more comfortable returning to the clinic in-person, patients ranked ‘regular staff’, ‘patient health screenings’ and ‘a robust infection & sanitization protocol’ among the top 3 protocols they’d want to know about.1
- Learning #3: The way in which you offer services need to meet your patient where they feel the most comfortable and safe
It is important that you understand how you can leverage a range of delivery models to ensure you are meeting your patients, where they are (in-person or remotely), whether they are in high-risk categories for COVID, tech-savvy patients or just regular patients who value convenience. Offering an essential service, such as hearing healthcare to your patients in the safety of their own homes – or wherever they are most comfortable – only adds to their overall satisfaction with their hearing journey.
Even more so, patients find themselves in new environments now that may have been very different from their previous settings (e.g., being at home more often with family) and need additional fine tuning to ensure they’re experience positive outcomes in their new surroundings. Being able to connect directly to them, in their family room, home office or with a loved one only continues to improve their hearing journey and satisfaction with the services you offer them.
If you’re not offering it – someone else is. The ‘fear of missing out’ is real. If you are not offering services like Remote Support to your patients, and it’s something they want – they will find someone else who is. Why risk the loss of a valued patient to someone else?
- Learning #4: Managing your business might look, and require, new tactics and strategies in 2021, including a new perspective on ‘traditional’ lead generation and marketing.
Cashflow is the single most important financial metric for any business. Using tools, such as a bowling chart approach, helps to ensure you are focused on the areas that really matter. However, don’t overlook some small but powerful changes in your day-to-day appointments, services and overhead that could result in additional positive impacts in your business.
A new perspective when looking at bringing new patients in the door while still mining your existing database is a must! The traditional database mailer with a monthly open house opportunity might look very different in 2021 as it did in 2019 and even part of 2020. It’s important to realize that many of the traditional lead-generation tactics and strategies are still extremely relevant in bringing new patients to your doors – virtually or in person – and we cannot abandon those tactics. However, we have to be strategic in how we hold a socially distinct and safe in-person event, or even a digital open house via a web-based meeting system!
- Learning #5: Change is not easy – or comfortable!
Any deviation from a routine and strategy that have proven to be successful time over time, or change in how a business is run or how we deliver services – can be uncomfortable and push us out of our comfort zone. It’s how you, your business, and your colleagues react and take on the changes that have come your way that will shape the successes of your actions.
Your patients will adapt – it’s in their nature to ensure they are getting the services they need and want – so whether fast or slow, they will adopt those new measures over time. It’s how you are willing to change and meet them where they need you the most so that you can ensure their hearing healthcare as well as the continued success of the business.
So what does this mean for 2021??
As we look to the new year, we have an immense wealth of experience from the past 6+ months of ‘COVID-19’ operations. At first, we did not know what to do, how to react, and how to thrive when COVID-19 caused many of us to shut our doors and figure out what was going to happen to our business and our patients. But we overcame! And we will continue to overcome and thrive in the new year going forward.
As you bring 2020 to an end, it is important to think about and communicate the strategy for your business, your colleagues, and your patients in 2021.
- How will the business react and respond to continued increases in COVID-19 cases and potential stay-at-home orders?
- How will you communicate your plans, your safety strategy, and your services to your patients – existing and new — to ensure they are getting the hearing healthcare they need while you protect both them and your staff?
- Start to think about what 2021 might look like and plan your strategy accordingly. Reach out to experts or colleagues in your community and your profession. Understand what they are doing well, what you can do to support the community, and how you can continue to provide patient care.
- Don’t abandon what you know ‘works’ – maybe it just needs a bit of a ‘tweak’ to be deployed in the current landscape – like marketing – but don’t abandon it. Be creative, think outside the box!
Most importantly, don’t forget you’re not in this alone. As your partner, Phonak is dedicated to helping you better understand what is happening in your industry, community and business, and developing strategies to overcome and be successful in the new year.
To learn more about what the future holds for hearing healthcare, we invite you to read a previous article by Nicole Klutz.
- Christine Barton, C., Koslow, L. & Lee, J. (2020). BCG patient sentiment survey. Boston Consulting Group. Retrieved from https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/covid-consumer-sentiment-survey-snapshot-4-27-20, accessed November 27th, 2020.